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Cupcake curmudgeon has had her fill

Posted by Marcia Dick  April 16, 2010 10:06 AM

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Danielle Dreilinger photos

The line snakes down Somerville Avenue to get into CupCakeCamp.

"Are you attending CupcakeCamp?" my friend e-mailed.

My response: "No."

 And then, "Unless I end up covering it. I am personally opposed to the fetishization of cupcakes. They are merely a convenient delivery mechanism for cake."

cupc1.jpg I am a cupcake curmudgeon. Yet there I was on Thursday, staring down a line of 60 people awaiting three hours of free sweets at the first-ever CupcakeCamp Boston at PA's Lounge in Somerville - a place I have in fact brought cupcakes many times.

That's the thing: I bake them a lot (and wait anxiously to see if my friends lick their fingers.) If you want people to eat cake at an office or a big party (or a bar), you don't want to mess with plates, forks, and knives. And any halfway decent home cook can improve on fancy bakery cupcakes, all way-too-much sugary frosting and tasteless base. I have found a perfect-for-now recipe and have, in the most horribly hipster move possible, identified the ideal cupcake-carrying mechanism for my bike. (Prescription cat food case.)

It's part of my particular brand of food snobbery that leads me to make sourdough starter from flour and water (it's bubbling!) but turn up my nose at, say, expensive lounges selling sliders.

Speaking of trends, if cupcakes aren't passé by now, they should be. New York's cupcake-famed Magnolia Bakery opened in 1996. The "Sex and the City" bus tour stops there.

But clearly I was in the minority. Over 600 people RSVP'd "yes" on Facebook. PA's holds about 125. By showtime, the line had grown to 100.

Finally, the first batch got inside to encounter … Cupcakeland. Cupcakes with pink aliens rising from the top. Cupcakes with paper cutouts of Ace Ventura. Roasted-beet cupcakes topped with bacon-sugar crumbles and marzipan beets. Cupcakes that looked like ice-cream cones and cupcakes that had ice cream spooned over them.

Amateur and professional bakers served their wares in separate rooms. The ones in the pro room looked like their presenters: perky and polished, with huge glossy poufs on top of disconcertingly uniform cakes.

The armies marched … or perhaps, attacked. "Our plan is to get two in each hand and we're going to split them so we can have a ton," said Megan Shoare of Cambridge, 23, who had been second in line.

"We're cupcake queens," said Lindsay Randall of Lexington, 26, giddy as her boyfriend ate a cupcake off a stick.

"It's cute," said Sarah Cloots of Malden, 29. At her wedding, she had cupcake table centerpieces in lieu of a cake.

"How can you say no to a free cupcake? Or several free cupcakes," said David DiGiammarino of Somerville, 26.

Babette Pepaj of thought love for cupcakes came from childhood. At elementary school parties, "What did your mother bring?" she asked rhetorically.

"Brownies and banana bread," I said.

Ducking to keep from getting green frosting smashed into my hair, I experienced an odd and unpleasant reversal of the typical dessert experience:

"I cut it into quarters," my friend said.

"Can you cut it into … eighths?" I asked.

For the first time I understood the point of the mini-cupcake.

The smorgasbord overwhelmed even the hardy. Erin Fili of JP, 22, sat at the bar with a plate of quartered cupcakes of various sorts, urging people to take some. Finally the bartender swept them into the trash - a move that seemed unfortunate given the freezing cupcake fans outside waiting over an hour to get in.

For all that, this particular curmudgeon found most of what she sampled genuinely lacking. A lemon-goop cupcake had that metallic tang that is to real citrus what red dye No. 5 is to strawberry. A mint chocolate cupcake felt sugary against the teeth. The frosting on a mocha cupcake had a nice coffee fragrance but grainy texture. (Confectioners sugar! The devil's shortcut.)

And then I heard it: A voice in the cupcake wilderness. "Too much frosting," a man said, pointing to a cupcake that didn't even have much compared to the silicone-enhanced boofs of the pros'. I seized upon him.

"For me, it's cake," said Matt Brown of Allston, 23. "If I can be pretend-philosophical for a second, the best cupcakes shouldn't need frosting." His own didn't: a delectable brownie-cheesecake, crunchy with chocolate chips and overflowing its cups in blessedly nonstandardized ways. (And you know what? That roasted-beet cupcake was pretty awesome, too.)

"The whole kind of gourmet cupcake thing… it didn't make sense to me," he added. Be still my beating stomach, which was starting to feel quite oogly near the gallbladder.

Two hours in, with bakers still bringing more cupcakes, the organizers seemed to be worried they wouldn't get rid of them all. They let more people in. The line shrank to about 30.  I went home, drank two cups of tea and started to think about recipes.

I have a party to throw this weekend. I am going to bake a cake.

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